I was at the cozy bar in Torrington, CT. My wife was in the next seat. Since I had been freezing all day, I chose a seat away from the door and the window. There might be a chilly breeze blowing through the closed window…after all, our hotel window had leaks as bad as a pasta sieve. I thought that maybe that’s the way people liked things in Connecticut, those hardy New England yank types.
We were looking over the menu for dinner. For me, there was no choice, it was the chili. What else would anyone else eat on such a cold spring night?
I looked to my left and noticed three 12 inch candles sitting in a bed of wax. That’s not a big deal in most cases. Who hasn’t seen four dinner candles sitting in their own melted wax…and the wax of previous candles, in a New England bar?
It took me about two minutes to notice that the candles were inside a fair-sized birdcage.
There was no sign of a bird of any kind. My first thought is that this was a local bar joke played on strangers like us.
“What’s with the candles in the cage?” I was supposed to ask.
“Oh, that’s our version of Stravinsky’s Firebird,” would be the answer. The locals would have a laugh on us.
I refused to be taken in. After all, I had lived in Connecticut for almost ten years…and not up here in Litchfield County, but downstate toward NYC in the Gold Coast, Fairfield County. I may have NYS license plates on my Ford Escape, but I wasn’t a true outsider. I had lived in the fabled Fairfield County. At the time I was living there, this was the home of such luminaries as Roger Glover of Deep Purple, William F. Buckley, Donald Trump, Paul Newman, Christopher Walken and the grandson of Howard Cosell.
The only person I know of who lives in Litchfield County is Henry Kissinger (and he might be in The Hague, addressing charges of war crimes).
But I digress.
I put off the question about the candles until the end of our meal (my wife had blackened Salmon). As we were settling up the bill, I couldn’t resist asking the bartender about why there are dinner candles in a birdcage.
She looked at me like I had just asked her if she owned a 1952 MG TD with wire wheels. There was a lag time of perhaps 10 seconds.
“Oh, you mean these?”
I looked around, thinking I had missed another birdcage with more candles. No, there was no mistake. I had my entire meal sitting inches away from the cage in question.
“Yes,” I said. “There must be a story there somewhere.”
“Well, you see,” she began, “this bar is owned by a real crazy Irishman.”
“Careful, sweetheart,” I thought.
“He had his favorite bird in the cage…can’t remember what kind of bird it was.”
“Not important,” I said.
“Well, his girl friend’s dog got into the cage one day and ate the bird.”
I winced, picturing a dog on the bar eating a bird…on the bar…right where I had been sitting. I kept my famous composure trying to figure out who to feel the most sympathy for, the bird, the hungry dog, or the bird-less Irish bar owner and what he must have said to his girl friend…or the girl friend. She must have been devastated (to say nothing about the bird).
“And the candles? Clearly they are a memorial of sorts, correct?” I asked.
“No, not really. We had the candles around the whole dining area and the fire marshal came in one night and said that violated the fire code. So the candles went into the now empty cage.”
I looked at the pool of wax and the three tapers (they were not lit) and thought about what a beautiful scene they made, right there at the end of the bar, the site of the dog/bird carnage.
Just above the birdcage was a TV monitor showing the latest scores of March Madness. As we put our coats on to leave, I was tempted to ask if the relationship between the bar owner and his girl friend survived the tragedy. In nearly all similar cases I’ve heard about, the affair had ended badly.
I glanced at the TV as we reached for the door.
UConn was ahead.